The Colorado Avalanche have to play without their superstar center for at least a few games. Why is the injury bug biting Colorado so hard?
Colorado Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon was injured in the game against the LA Kings. The team has announced he’ll be out one to two weeks.
That’s great. Cancel the season.
Obviously I know that’s an overreaction. The Avalanche are currently second in the Western Conference. They’re just two points out with a game in hand over the St. Louis Blues. In other words, they’re in a good position to withstand a hit.
The hit could be a big one, though. The Avs are currently in play every-other-day mode. If you count MacKinnon out for the full two weeks, he could potentially miss eight games. Colorado can’t afford to lose that many games.
Ok, MacKinnon’s being out of the lineup doesn’t mean the Avalanche will lose all of the games he doesn’t play. A full 12 points stands between them and missing the playoffs, so they could even lose half those games and still be playoff contenders.
But the loss of MacKinnon does raise some questions.
How Can the Colorado Avalanche Win Without MacKinnon?
Hockey is played in teams. The loss of one player shouldn’t mean the Avalanche can no longer win. However, the loss of other key players does exacerbate the issue. Cale Makar is returning to action tonight, but the team still has to play without top scorers Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, and Andre Burakovsky, at least for now.
Typically, the Avalanche play their most unified hockey when they have a key injury. The players rely on each other more instead of just letting the top guys use their talent to win the game. They’ve been playing a more defensive system, too.
On that note, with the return of Makar, Colorado needs to go back to their tried-and-true defensive pairings:
Cale Makar-Adam Graves
Sam Girard-Erik Johnson
Ian Cole-Nikita Zadorov
I’m not really interested in hearing about Zadorov’s poor performances. The team wins with him in the lineup. Part of the reason is everyone knows what to expect because the defensive pairings are consistent. Consistent defense will help win games with MacKinnon (et al) out.
Which Players Will Step Up?
Another key to the Avalanche winning without their superstar is other players stepping up their offense. The old “next man up” adage doesn’t work when one of the best players in the NHL is the man who’s out — you need about half a dozen guys then.
Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog has been on a tear, doing so well he’s earned Second Star of the Week honors. Makar’s return means he can get back in the rookie scoring race, which also benefits the Avalanche.
From there, we simply need to see some secondary scorers pot a few goals. I’m rooting for Tyson Jost to have some big nights. But I’ll take scoring from anyone.
Why do the Avalanche Players Keep Getting Injured?
This is a question that’s been going through my head since the rash of injuries in October. Hockey is a contact sport, and all teams should expect their fair share of injuries. However, the Avs seem to have more than their fair share this year.
I’m not the only one who thinks so:
At the time of writing, the Colorado Avalanche had 208 man games lost, which put them at #5 in the NHL.
What is the issue? Is it really just bad luck? Coincidence? Or is there some underlying issue? Is their training not up to par? The systems? Are other teams targeting our stars because they don’t fear retribution?
Maybe teams are trying so hard to slow the super-fast Avs players down that they end up getting overly physical. That’s another reason I want to see Zadorov stay in the lineup.
Can the Avalanche Still Win Best in the West?
The Colorado Avalanche have been dancing with the St. Louis Blues all season. At one point, for a few days, the Avalanche succeeded in gaining top of the Central, which puts them at top of the Western Conference with the way the standings are going this season.
If the injury to MacKinnon impacts the Avalanche’s ability to win games for even a week, much less the full two, no. They cannot win Best in the West. The Blues have gone 8-2-0 in their last 10, so there’s no reason to think they’ll suddenly start floundering.
Something that works in Colorado’s favor over the next two weeks is the schedule. It consists of five home games and three road games. Home ice should be an advantage, but the Avs play better on the road. So, either way they can get some wins.
The competition is a little tough. They’re facing three teams who are unlikely to make the playoffs, but any team can win in this NHL. They’re also facing three teams who are fighting for their playoff lives. That leaves two solid playoff contenders.
All we can do is sit back and hope the Avalanche find ways to win more games.
The loss of Nathan MacKinnon goes beyond his actual scoring. He is an on-ice leader, and the team feels more comfortable when he’s in the lineup. However, if the Pittsburgh Penguins can win without Sidney Crosby and the Edmonton Oilers can win without Connor McDavid, the Colorado Avalanche can win for a short while without MacKinnon.